Animal Law

Veterinarian Malpractice - Is it Worth Suing?

Your pet is a member of your family; a trusted companion and reliable friend. When it doesn't feel well, you do everything you can to get it the best medical treatment. When your pet doesn't get well or dies, your first impulse may be to file a lawsuit for veterinarian malpractice, but is it worth suing? Probably not.

Is a Malpractice Suit the Answer?

Because animals are considered property, if your pet is injured or killed, you must file a lawsuit to recover damages. This is true even if it's your veterinarian who caused the harm.

Measure the Costs

Veterinarian malpractice lawsuits aren't common, though, because the measure of damages for the loss of a pet in most states is the market value of the pet. In other words, what someone else would pay for an identical pet of the same age, breed and condition.

The truth is your lawyer's fees may be more than you're able to recover in court. Also, as a general rule, pet owners like you have to prove the same things you would have proven in a medical malpractice case, which isn't always easy or inexpensive.

A few states allow money damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship. However, awards for an owner's mental suffering are the exception rather than the rule.

Small Claims Saves Costs

An alternative is to file your lawsuit in small claims court where you won't have the cost of a lawyer or some other costs of a full-blown trial. But even then, a lawsuit isn't likely make up for the loss of a treasured animal companion.

Report the Incident

No matter which legal path you follow, it's important that you report the suspected malpractice to prevent others from suffering a loss like yours and to hold the veterinarian accountable. File complaints with the:

The Board in your state will investigate the matter and has the power to suspend or revoke the veterinarian's license if it finds your pet wasn't treated properly.  

Prevention & Insurance May Be the Best Medicine

Keeping your pet healthy in the first place, and having a plan to cover medical costs, may be the keys to a long, happy relationship.

Holistic Treatment

Although it often takes on different meanings, holistic treatment means caring for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of your pet.

What's that mean? Any number of things, including:

  • Changing the pet's diet to include more natural or organic foods to promote health, manage weight, etc.
  • Increasing the time your pet spends socializing with you and your family and making it quality time - more playing, touching and petting, and longer walks, for example
  • Participating more in the treatments selected by your veterinarian for your pet. Ask questions about the pros and cons of any treatment and any alternatives

This type of approach to your pet's health may help prevent illness and speed the healing process in case of illness. It will also make for a happier pet, which means more enjoyment for you and your family.

Pet Insurance

Yes, in many states, you can buy insurance for your pet. Like health insurance for you and your family, there are many types of plans that range in costs and coverage, but generally you can get a policy that covers all or part of the costs of vet visits, lab tests, surgery and medication. Your vet can provide diagnostic and treatment options rivaling human health care, and insurance may be the only way you can afford it.

Life Insurance

Also, you may be able to by life insurance. Unlike your life insurance policy, there's no cash payout when your pet dies. Rather, pet life insurance pays "end-of-life" benefits to help you the pay the costs of cremation or burial. Also, many policies pay for bereavement counseling to help you cope with the loss of your pet.

The loss of a pet can be just as devastating as the loss of any other family member. When veterinarian malpractice is involved, your grief and anger may take control. Think carefully about filing a lawsuit, and talk to an attorney about it.

Perhaps the the best course is to try to prevent illness, and if you can afford it, buy insurance to help you pay for medical care. That way you and your pet can enjoy each other's company for many, many years.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How long do I have to file a malpractice suit against my pet's veterinarian?
  • Can a veterinarian lose her license if she's sued for malpractice?
  • Does my veterinarian have to get my consent before giving my pet any medical treatment?
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